Ghosts of a Godless Land (or “360 Degrees of Jesus”)

JC 360 SPORTSGRILLE

OVIEDO, Florida

28.6700° N, 81.2081° W

This is not your standard haunt. At first glance, JC 360 has all the makings of a sports bar: bottom-shelf wells, domestic swills, broken-tipped darts, 23 flat-screens shipped direct from Pyongyang and refried chicken-wings served by the usual suspect waitresses (bulimically svelte, spray-tanned and faux-buxom) in half-torn halter-tops & skin-tight short-shorts. As familiar as JC 360 may appear, however, this is not your standard haunt. These grounds are haunted by more than the residual cinnamon spirit spilt on your v-neck shirt from a haphazardly-fired shot of candied Canadian whiskey. Mind you, before this building existed, before Seminole County rezoned this site “commercial – religious and/or dive bar”, the land was agricultural: St Augustine sod (or, depending on who’s asking, marijuana), and before grass was grown, this land had been uninhabitable muck with a swamp-ass terroir going all the way back to the moment Florida crawled out of the sea like a Darwinian salamander preferring the view from the pool deck. As found with any real estate in the newly drained swamps of Florida, the ghosts are different here. This land was not meant for the fickleness of contemporary society. For all its spicy sauces and evangelical flare, JC 360 was built on ground unfit for civilized spectatorship, let alone a Jesus-themed happy hour (“turning water into wine coolers since 2009”). Whatever was built here would be an abomination; JC 360 did its damnedest, but never had a chance against the prevailing sediment.

“No dude, this town used to be medieval.” Cyrus Lee Hancock waves his electronic cigarette at the twilit tree-line rimming the parking lot. “Before we brought the toll road through here…” he speaks as if he built the highway himself. “There wasn’t jack-shit beyond the gator farm, some chicken coops and miles of celery. There were more roosters in the streets of Oviedo than men.” Cyrus Lee points at imagined history as a half-assed tour-guide half-drunk on hard-seltzer. “Half the buildings in town were churches. But you know what all those churches didn’t have? Fucking brunch, bro.” Cyrus Lee turns away from the parking lot and lifts his arms as if to embrace the restaurant before us. “And on the seventh day, God said let there be sports bars. And He tried the peach sweet-tea mimosa and God said ‘this is good’.”

JC 360 Sportsgrille is where Christ’s chosen can go without judgment to commit the sins of sports spectatorship: sloth, gluttony and pride with a dash of neighborly covetousness. At JC 360, you’ll never turn your back on the Sodom & Gomorrah Salty Guacamole and the Nacho Tower of Babel will leave you speaking in tongues. “This is the sort of place any blue-blooded American soccer-mom housewife would beg to send her husband to watch the Sunday games. Our mission at JC 360 is to bring more people to Jesus, and we bring in all sorts…” Cyrus Lee pauses as he weighs his next statement. He inhales from his electronic cigarette then speaks through the exhale, “This is the only bar around Orlando which can boast having served local celebs Gary Zimmerman and Casey Anthony. And Shaq. We’ve got autographed photos, but the geniuses in legal suggest we not put them on the walls. Except Shaq. He’s on the wall.”

Whatever you’re thinking right now, REPENT!

My purpose here at JC 360 Sportsgrille is multi-thronged. Undoubtedly, I come here anticipating the presence of Cyrus Lee Hancock’s wife (one of his first). Secondarily, I’m devoutly entertained by this chronically blasphemous man’s minority stake in a foolish enterprise. Tertiary is business: I invited a pod of lads from out of Lockhart, specifically Doc Kelly (the Greater Orlando Genghis of Fire Safety) to meet with Cyrus Lee Hancock (the Central Florida Caesar of Hurricane Survival). It seemed a fortuitous confluence, not the apocalyptic shit-show John the Revelator could’ve smelt two millennia away.

It must be noted: the Lockhart Boys are no residents of current day Lockhart. Lockhart only shows up in internet searches when you google “what is the quickest way to die in Orlando” or “what high schools in Florida have been shuttered for twenty years”. In a previous epoch of Central Florida history, my mother was born & raised in Lockhart with her MacDunna kin alongside the Kellys, DeSalles, DeWitts, Rabensteins, O’Lairds and other Olde Florida Cracker dynasties which now reside in far-flung western Orange County towns like Ocoee and Apopka and Disney Springs. Growing up, I didn’t know anything of Lockhart other than my MacDunna cousins and I never spoke to another member of the Lockhart Diaspora until the day I saw Doc Kelly’s sister doing handstands in the grass outside a train station in the English countryside (a story for another campfire). And I certainly didn’t know any DeSalle from Sunday before I met Al DeSalle, aka “the Trunk”, on this very venture to Oviedo’s JC 360 Sportsgrille.

Like the pastel bricks of JC 360, the Lockhart Boys were haunted by old ghosts out of deep-time. Their folk had been in Florida dehydrating, sun-burning and blood-letting (mosquito, leech, tick, family feud, etc.) from time immortal. It could be argued they evolved from the cypress stumps as much as they were the progeny of confederate outlaw refugees, but in all fairness, it is probably a combination of both. Al DeSalle especially seems born of the elements. Earlier in the day I had inquired why they referred to him as “the Trunk”, thinking it might be in regards to the barely legal limit of combustible fertilizer he keeps in the boot of his car or the size of his tree-branch forearms only to regretfully learn he was called “the Trunk” for the elephantine appendage he was known to brandish from time to time with a quick drop of his trousers. That is quite the party trick for a man with the charm of a curb-stomp. “You know something…” Al remarks to me as I line up a cue ball. “There is something about the way you play pool which tells me you’ve never satisfied a woman.” He’s grinning, or attempting to as a sociopath would, but the snarl of his flawless teeth is less toothsome than the necklace of reptile fangs he wears as a remembrance to all of the alligators he’s poached with a sniper rifle. If there is a relic of the past within these walls, it is Al “the Trunk” DeSalle.Before my short-lived round of billiards with the Lockhart Boys, I had introduced Doc Kelly to Cyrus Lee Hancock and left them to debate amongst themselves the current state of Floridian precariousness (disaster being their tradecraft). Once I concede defeat at pool, I cross the bar to saddle-up to a stool at the high-top occupied by Mrs. Hancock (the first of her kind). Hannah is youthful with effervescence which cannot be sustainable amidst these flat, sullen, central-state towns. She’s from the southern beaches; a different species of Floridian. The Florida coastlines are ranges of flux: shifting sands remolded with fresh footfalls, unlike the galvanized interior. Nurtured by land of such a malleable and erosive nature, Hannah possesses nihilism for what precedes her. What does it matter the sand castles which fell before? One of our more vibrant discussions left me stumped when Hannah challenged me, “I’ll give you two minutes to prove it to me.” It being dinosaurs. How do I prove that in 2 minutes? If only I had a hose handy, I’d siphon gasoline out of her car, spit it onto a plate and sift through the fuel for fossils. Alas, no hose. I was setup for the fall. Hannah remained unconvinced. The Big Bang might as well have occurred sometime around 1989.

Mr. Hancock, too, is from elsewhere. His youthfulness materializes in the pluckiness of a scheming huckster. As he returns from discussions with Doc Kelly, you can see the glimmer of mischief in his eyes, even past the veil of electric smoke seeping from his nostrils like the fluorescent dragon in the window of a strip-mall Chinese food restaurant. I’m introduced to Meg, his sister, who is working at JC 360 and is unimpressed her brother has a friend. It could be my aftershave. I ask what beers are on draught and Meg points to the menu under the heading, “W.W.J.D.: What Would Jesus Drink?” I saw that, I say, but it is all domestic. Does Jesus not drink craft beer? What about imports? Hell no, Meg says. I order a $3.16 gospel-priced happy-hour pint of piss. Make that two of your finest, Cyrus Lee says merrily.

At an adjacent vacant high-top, Al DeSalle pauses in transit, putting a pitcher of beer down in order to file away his credit card within his wallet. Cyrus Lee Hancock takes advantage of the captive audience and raises his voice to ask if Al is thirsty. Al DeSalle’s granite face shifts as he coughs a confused, “Hunh?” Cyrus Lee flashes his used-car salesman smile and again playfully suggests Al must be pretty thirsty. It occurs to Al the comment is in reference to the pitcher of beer. Al does not take kindly to the accusation. “Do you think this is all for me? Are you calling me an alcoholic?” Cyrus Lee is now the one confused. Al pushes further, “Call me an alcoholic then. Go ahead, do it.” Hey man, I say to Al DeSalle, it was just a joke. A bad joke, I add, hoping to make the offense more trifling. Al DeSalle is not pleased, but he takes his pitcher of beer and rejoins the Lockhart Boys at the pool tables.

“Jesus.” Cyrus Lee Hancock says; his words are more blaspheme than prayer to the everywhere Christ of JC 360. “That fucker is as friendly as cancer.” You should see how he talks to his friends, I tell Mrs. and Mr. Hancock. Al’s been asking Digby DeWitt how many pounds of asshole he has to eat to get breath that bad. The presumption is it takes 16 pounds of asshole. “Don’t you mean, ‘assumption’?” Cyrus Lee jokes as he cackles delightfully, waving over his sister for another round of beers. Meg is not in the order-taking mood. Someone has been harassing her patio customers. Meg wants to know if it was us. Cyrus Lee cannot resist alleging blame, “Find the redneck fucker looking like someone pulled skin over a cinderblock. That cracker harasses the air he breathes.” After his sister departs in a huff, Mrs. Hancock crosses her arms and says she hopes he is happy with himself. I interject, telling Hannah, if Cyrus Lee Hancock made himself any happier it would be considered self-abuse. “This is true” Cyrus Lee admits, exhaling his electronic cigarette smoke.  

There was already a foreboding air to the night. Not evil; evil is too subjective. Predatory is too singular in purpose. The air was filled with primordial chaos; a leviathan older than the gods of man, certainly older than the Common Era Christ surrounding us with 360 degrees, seemingly, of semi-omnipotence. The ominous ambiance has me muddled and wanting a shit: evident signs I am either in trouble and/or talking to a lady. The menacing presence engulfing us is revanchist in its hunger to reclaim this world from our grips; one could argue its agents of chaos were the boys out of Lockhart, but no more than another might argue Meg Hancock was the catalyst to mutual annihilation.

An unholy choir of escalating hostility brings Cyrus Lee and me out of our seats. A skirmish has erupted near the pool tables. Fuck you. No fuck you. Eat my dick, cunt. And etcetera. The Lockhart Boys were entrenched; except Doc Kelly who politely excuses himself from unjust combat unbefitting of a gentleman. I think I left the oven on, Doc says hailing a cab, and I forgot I have to wash my hair. Meanwhile, staff empties from the kitchen: busboys cracking knuckles, hair-netted fry-cooks elbow deep in salmonella and dishwashers wiping bubbles off on their pant legs; normally stoned into oblivion, these avengers unite in defense of Meg. The Lockhart Boys are unimpressed. Digby DeWitt has fisted a couple of billiard balls and Roy-Roy Smitty is gripping a ball rack as if it were a triangular noose. Wait, wait, whoa, wait, wait, I step between the warring fronts. I ask what the fuck is going on. She fucking spat at me, Al DeSalle says. He called me a cunt, Meg Hancock says. Because she spat at me, Al retorts. Let’s calm down a minute, I say even though they tell you at shark negotiation school this is the worst thing to say to sharks that’re already blinking for the bite. If I’m panicky, it’s because I know there are assault rifles in the trucks of the Lockhart Boys and I know Cyrus Lee Hancock has at least as much artillery in the immediate vicinity, if not at his ankle.  

The lights flicker-off once, twice, drawing a temporary cease-fire. Cyrus Lee Hancock emerges and in his most grandiose voice, announces a great disrespect has been made, requiring justice paid. Everyone is confused… everyone, except me. I cringe. Having helped write his 2012 Ultimate Hurricane Survival Guide, I recognized this strategy from his “If all else fails, sew confusion” chapter on peace treaties. In the post-hurricane apocalyptic example we put into the survival guide, a thief from a neighboring family is caught stealing gasoline. The plaintiff family wants the thief’s hand dismembered as punishment. The representative for the defendant should counter with a ridiculous escalation: both of the thief’s hands should be chopped off, the thief’s family will keep the gasoline, but one of the daughters of the thief’s family will be held collateral by the plaintiff family until the debt can be repaid. The plan should be as idiotic as necessary to create enough confusion to stall until someone else comes up with a better plan or for reinforcements to outflank the plaintiff family’s position.

“A great dishonor has been done.” Cyrus Lee takes the stage. Everyone watches; including his sister, Meg, who rightfully assumes “dishonor” had been committed against her. “In violation of the sacredness of hospitality, spitting at a guest, we shall chop the little finger off from the hand of the offending waitress, my sister, Meg!” Everyone remains silent, except Meg who screams ungodly curses at her brother. Cyrus Lee calmly calls to the kitchen, “Can someone bring a cleaver? Or a steak-knife?”

Unfortunately, instead of refusing and de-escalating, the Lockhart Boys become entranced, watching with fascination as Cyrus Lee Hancock plays out his bluff. If the Oviedo Police do not arrive outside with flashing lights, dispersing the contents of JC 360 into the parking lot (or inside to the toilets to dispose of contraband), I am unsure what would have happened. But the police do arrive and bygones are hurriedly left as is… y’know, bygones.

“See, it worked!” Cyrus Lee argues to his sister as she unquietly renounces her familial title. Unperturbed with Meg’s ebbing estrangement, Cyrus Lee remains pleased with himself, but no more so than Hannah is pleased with herself for calling the police.

I exit JC 360 past an image of a smiling white Jesus and the words, “come back soon”. Is it a message for the departing or for the departed Christ himself to return and usher in the end of days?

Beneath the fleeting footfalls on the parking lot is a damning murk residing within the earthen muck which remains adamant against mankind’s frivolous and temporary presence up there in the breeze, grumbling all the while, this is no place for dancing.

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